Topic 10 – Lexicon. Characteristics of the formation of words in English. Prefix, suffix and composition.


1.1. Scope of the topic 4

1.2. Key concepts 4



3.1. Classification of words 6

3.2. Word formation processes of English 6

3.2.1. Affixation 7 Prefixation 7

Conversion prefixes 7

Neo-classical prefixes 7

Neoclassical number prefixes 7

Prefixes of time and order 8

Locative prefixes: 8

Prefixes of attitude 8

Prefixes of degree 8

Pejorative prefixes 9

Reversal or privative prefixes 9

De 9

Dis 9

Un 9

Negative prefixes 9 Suffixation 10

Verb suffixes 10

Adverb suffixes 10

Adjective suffixes 10

Deverbal 10

Denominal 11

Noun/adjective suffixes 11

Nouns 11

Deverbal 11

De-adjectival 12

Denominal: 12

3.2.2. Compounding: 13 First element stressed: 13 Second element stressed: 13 Bahuvrihi compounds 13 Greek- Latin bases. 14

3.2.3. Conversion: 14 Types of conversion 14

Conversion to adjective: N →A 14

Conversion to verb 14

N→V: 14

A →V: 14

Minor categories 14

Conversion to Noun 15

V →N: 15

A→N: 15

Minor Categories 15

3.2.4. MISCELLANEOUS PROCESSES 15 Blends 15 Reduplications 15 Back-formation 16 Acronyms 16 Proper Nouns 16 Names of inventors: 16 Words with new meanings: 16



1.1. Scope of the topic

The scope of this topic includes the discussion of all the systematic processes by which words in English can be formed. These processes are common to many other languages. They belong to the area of study of Lexicology.

1.2. Key concepts

1. Lexicology is the area of language study concerned with the nature, meaning, history and use of the stock of lexemes existing in a language (that is, its lexis).

2. Lexemes are lexical items and they can be defined as the words as they appear in the dictionary. They are represented by capital letters.

HAPPY: happier, happiest, happy

These three words are seen as variants of the same lexical item HAPPY. Therefore a given lexical item may comprise different word variants. Also, a word-form may belong to some different lexemes if there are different contents attached to this form. For example, a word-form such as bank may belong to two different lexemes:

BANK: as the shore of a river

BANK: a particular kind of financial institution.

3. Word. We all seem to sense what a word is, but when trying to define it we face many problems, and so, none of the definitions given by linguists seem to be entirely successful. In any case, the criteria are seen as tests for word identification:

a) A word is an element between potential pauses. Pauses will likely follow and precede words, even if this is more clearly seen in writing form. However, sometimes people break up words containing more than one syllable: Ab-so-lu-te-ly.

b) A word is indivisible. If you say a sentence out loud, and ask someone to add extra words to it, these will be added between the words and not within them. But what about absobloominglutely?

c) A word is a minimal free form (Bloomfield). It is the smallest unit of speech that can be meaningfully stand on its own. But what would happen for example with the article the?

d) A word is an element lying between phonetic boundaries. That is, you can tell from the sound of a word where it begins and ends. But what would happen with, for example: /d nt / (don’t you?).

A word is a semantic unit, that is, a unit of meaning. But we have cases such as: get rid of, which is a semantic unit, but three different words.


Lexicology determines some regular patterns in the way some lexical items are formed. The area of study of these regular patterns is word-formation.

Regularities of similar nature can be founded in both grammar and word formation, and it is even possible lo connect these sets of regularities directly, as the following example illustrates:



1. She distributed her leaflets speedily

1. Her distribution of the leaflets was speedily

2. They communicated the results efficiently

2. The communication of the results was efficient

There are vertical and horizontal grammar and lexical regularities.

Grammar regularities

1. Vertical: A constructions show the same syntactic structure, and the same goes for B.

2. Horizontal: adjectives in B correspond to adverbs in A.

3. Horizontal: there’s a correspondence between she and her, they and their.

Lexical regularities

1. Vertical: verbs in –ate, –ute

2. Vertical: adverbs in –ly.

3. Horizontal: correspondence between –ate forms and –ation forms for nouns.

4. Horizontal: -ly form regularly turns adjectives in A into adverbs.


3.1. Classification of words

A word can show an internal structure that can be recognised by the native speaker. The nature of this structure may act as a criterion for the classification of word in English:

1. Complex. Consisting of several parts that occur elsewhere in the language with the same meaning: stone-deaf, donkey-like.

2. Simple: Those words with no recognizable parts: lion, case, etc.

3. Stem: the form of a word stripped of all affixes that are recognizable as such in English: pi-ous

4. Base: the unit to which a particular affix may be attached:













5. The productivity of word-formation rules is more restricted than that of syntax. You can’t apply rules freely:


* Horrible-ness

These rules are subject to transformation when dealt with from a diachronic point of view, and so, there are rules that were productive in the past but aren’t any longer:

Stand: present tense affix.


Seen from a synchronic point of view they provide a constant ‘set of models’ from which new words are created.

3.2. Word formation processes of English

We can differentiate four main types of word-formation processes: affixation (prefixation, suffixation) compounding and conversion.

3.2.1. Affixation

Affixes are usually very productive (unless infixes) and they show semantic relations among them, especially antonymy. Prefixation

It consists in putting a prefix in front of the base, sometimes with, but more usually without a change of word-class: e.g. ‘pre-determine.

We are going to classify prefixes depending on meaning, etymology or some other criteria.

Conversion prefixes

1. A: to create predicative adjectives: asleep)

2. BE: to create intensity: befriend

3. EN-EM: endanger, embitter,’

Neo-classical prefixes

Most of them are still productive.

1. AUTO: automobile

2. EXTRA: extraaffectionate

3. NEO: neoliberal, neoclassicism

4. PALEO: (old): palaeography

5. PAN: (world-wide): Pan-African

6. PROTO: (first): protoGermanic

7. TELE: television

8. VICE: vice-president

Neoclassical number prefixes

9. MONO, UNI: monorail, unisex

10. BI, DI: bicycle, diphthong


12. POLY, MULTY: polysyllabic, multiculturalism.

13. SEMI, DEMI, HEMI: hemisphere, semicircle,…

Prefixes of time and order

1. EX: ex-president

2. FORMER: former-Yugoslavia

3. PRE: pre-school

4. FORE: fore play

5. POST: post-war

6. ATER: aftertaste

7. RE: redo

Locative prefixes:

1. FORE: (front part of): foreground

2. SUB: submarine

3. SUPER: superstructure

4. INTER: international

5. TRANS: trans-oceanic.

Prefixes of attitude

1. ANTI: anti-social

2. CONTRA: contradict

3. COUNTER: (against) counteract

4. PRO: pro-life

Prefixes of degree

1. ARCH: archbishop

2. SUB: subconscious

3. SUPER: supermarket

4. MINI: minimarket

5. MAXI: maxi skirt

6. UNDER: underage

7. OUT: outnumber

8. ULTRA: ultraliberal

9. SUR: surmount

10. CO: co-education

11. HYPER: hyper creative

12. OVER: overestimate

Pejorative prefixes

1. MAL: malfunction

2. MIS: misunderstand

3. PSEUDO: pseudo-science

Reversal or privative prefixes












Negative prefixes

1. A/AN: atheist

2. DIS: disorder.

3. IN, IL, IM, IR, IG: impossible, incomplete, illegible, ignorant

4. NON: non-smoker

5. UN: unhappy, unexpected Suffixation

It consists in putting a suffix after the base, sometimes without, but more usually with a change of word-class; e.g.: homeless. This is why the classification of suffixes will be grammatical instead of lexical (the have a small semantic role).

We group suffixes according to the word class that results when they are added to a base. We therefore speak of:








Verb suffixes

1. ATE: (to neo-classical noun bases) evaluate

2. EN: (causative): deepen

3. IFY/FY: simplify

4. IZE/ISE: modernize

Adverb suffixes

1. LY: personally

2. WARD: onward

3. WISE: clockwise

Adjective suffixes


1. ABLE: (related to the passive) translatable

2. IVE: (related to the active) attractive


1. ED: pointed, wooded

2. FUL: careful

3. ISH: childish, Finnish

4. LESS: careless

5. LIKE: childlike

6. LY: hilly

7. Y: beauty

8. AL, IAL, ICAL: chemical

9. ESQUE: picturesque

10. IC: specific

11. OUS, IOUS: pious, desirous

12. LESS: careless

Noun/adjective suffixes

1. ESE: Chinese

2. IAN: Indian, Shakespearian.

3. IST: violinist

4. ITE: Israelite, socialite




1. ANT: (agential): Participant

2. EE: employee

3. ER, OR: driver


1. AGE: (action of): coverage

2. AL: (action or result of) refusal

3. ATION: (process or state of) exploration

4. ING: building

5. MENT: amazement


ITY: (Latinate bases) elasticity, banality

NESS: meanness



1. EER: pamphleteer

2. ER: teenager

3. ESS: (feminine): waitress

4. ETTE: (feminine) usherette

5. LET: (small, unimportant) booklet

6. STER: (involved in) trickster


1. AGE: (measure of, collection of) baggage

2. DOM: (pejorative) officialdom

3. ERY, RY: slavery, nursery

4. FUL: spoonful

5. lNG: farming, duckling

6. ISM: idealism

7. OCRACY: democracy

8. SHIP: membership

3.2.2. Compounding:

It consists in adding one base to another, such that usually the one placed in front in some sense subcategorises the one that follows (hyponym): blackbird, armchair, bottle-feed. They function grammatically and semantically as a single word. In English, compounds are usually formed by two words and they are equally open.

There are two main stress patters: First element stressed:

1. Obj + V-er: firefighter, maths teacher.

2. V + prepos: close-up, flashback

3. V-ing + Sub: washing machine, cleaning lady

4. Long established: blackboard, godfather. Second element stressed:

The following usually have primary stress on their second element but if these words are followed by another stressed word with which they have close grammatical connexion, the stress may shift to the first element, e.g. ´snow-white hair but snow-´white.

1. A + N-er: wrongdoer, freethinker

2. A + Past Part: cold-blooded, red-haired

3. N + N: apple-tart, chicken soup, front door, Cathedral road

4. N + P: all-out, head-on, looker-on, Hangeron

5. Subj + Attrib: boy-friend

6. Obj + V: birth-control, blood-test

7. Adv + N: managing director. Bahuvrihi compounds

This type of compounds is defined in terms of meaning. Bahuvrihi compounds or exocentric refers to the relation the constituents of the sentence have with their referents. They are not hyponyms, but they refer to a separate entity that is characterized by the compound. Some examples are: paperback, birdbrain, highbrow Greek- Latin bases.

These compounds are also defined in terms of meaning, and they usually slow a first constituent borrowed from Latin or Greek. This constituent does not occur as a separate noun base in English: orthodontia, eugenics, palaeography, insecticide

3.2.3. Conversion:

Conversion is the derivational process whereby an item is adapted or converted to a new word class without the addition of an affix.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine which item is the base and which the derived form, that is, in which direction conversion has taken place:

Release (N) ↔to release

Fax (N) →to fax

Cases such as:

The rich

The poor

Shouldn’t be considered as cases of conversion, they are still adjectives functioning as heads of a noun phrase: they can’t appear in their plural form, they can appear in the superlative and comparative form,… Types of conversion

Conversion to adjective: N →A

A brick garage Worcester porcelain

Conversion to verb


To carpet, to nail, to answer, to telephone

A →V:

To calm, to empty

Minor categories

Don’t yes-but- me!

Don’t huh-huh again!

They downed tools in protest.

Conversion to Noun

V →N:

Walk, cover, sleep, answer


It’s not very productive, but we can find examples such as a pint of bitter or the final.

Minor Categories

Phrases: He’s a has-been

Affixes: too many isms in modern culture

Conjunctions: too many ifs and buts.

Modals: a must, a would-be


It’s a very productive process consisting of merging elements belonging to two different words to form a new one. Some examples are the following: breathalyser, smog, brunch, alcoholiday, workaholic…. Reduplications

These are compounds that have two or more constituents, these being either identical or only slightly different, e.g. wishy- washy. The difference between the two constituents may be in the initial consonants, e.g. ‘walkie-talkie’ or in the middle vowels, e.g. ‘criss-cross ‘.

They are usually informal and fami1iar, and many belong to the sphere of child parent talk. e.g. ‘din-din’ (dinner). Their uses are:

Onomatopoeia: rat-a-tat (sound on the door), tick-tock

Alternative movements: flip-flop. Ping-pong

Intensifier: teeny-weeny

Childlike: hocus-pocus, wishy-washy.

Some expressions have become lexicalised: sink or swim, tip for tat, by hook or by crook. Back-formation

It’s the process by which a word is created by the deletion of a supposed affix is:

Lazy (A) <laze>

Enthusiasm (N) <enthuse>. Acronyms

Acronyms are words formed from the initial letters of words that make up a name. They can he either:

1. Pronounced as sequences of letters:


2. Pronounced as words:

NATO WASP Proper Nouns



Boycott Names of inventors:



Kleenex, Words with new meanings:




1. Bauer. L. (1983) English Word Formation. Cambridge Univ. Press

2. Quirk R. et al (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman

3. (Crystal. D). The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of English Language. Cambridge 1994.

Publicado: marzo 13, 2019 por Laura Gonzalez

Etiquetas: tema 10 inglés secundaria